Last week Reverend Al Sharpton, a famous civil rights activist and Baptist minister, penned an op-ed for the Guardian, which drew attention to the impact of marijuana laws on generations of black Americans and Americans of color. As Sharpton bluntly put it, decriminalizing marijuana is civil rights cause number one. Of course, Sharpton isn’t the first prominent black leader to call marijuana reform a civil rights issue. But the context of his letter shifts the emphasis in important ways.
Al Sharpton: Decriminalizing Marijuana Is A Civil Rights Cause
Sharpton begins his letter referencing the waves of racism, xenophobia and hate that are putting Americans rights under siege. And in Sharpton’s view, the Trump administration is at the center of this erosion of civil rights.
In his letter, Sharpton praised the diverse and growing resistance movement against Trump’s agenda. He lauded activists who are fighting to ensure voting rights, challenge employment discrimination and secure health coverage for Americans without insurance.
But then Sharpton makes a striking claim. On par with these civil rights issues is another cause, Sharpton argues. And that cause is the struggle to end the federal ban on cannabis.
Calling marijuana decriminalization “our country’s next transformative victory,” Sharpton said that marijuana is civil rights cause that “we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.”
Both Parties Agree: Marijuana Is A Civil Rights Cause
Democrats and other progressives have long-been the leading advocates for marijuana reform in the country. But their adversaries on the other side of the aisle have also made powerful cases in favor of decriminalization.
Sharpton’s op-ed letter appealed to both camps in its staunch support for marijuana reform. Along with Democrats and progressives, Sharpton acknowledged the decades-long “War on Drugs” has succeeded only in stripping generations of Americans, and overwhelmingly people of color, from access to higher education, economic opportunities, housing and the right to vote.
He also acknowledged the Republican case for decriminalizing weed. If conservative rail against wasteful government spending and overreach, there is no grimmer example than the wasteful enforcement of non-violent marijuana-related offenses. And if Republicans want to reduce the number of people on government assistance, Sharpton argues, they should recognize the link between incarceration and poverty.
Finally, Shaprton pointed to the growing opioid epidemic in the United States as a symptom of criminalizing cannabis. Sharpton feels communities devastated by the opioid problem would be “natural allies” in the movement to decriminalize cannabis.
Al Sharpton To Take Action Highlighting How Marijuana Is Civil Rights Cause
In order to spur change within an administration that has been publicly hostile to marijuana reform, Sharpton is taking a two-pronged approach.
First, Sharpton is throwing his support behind Decode Cannabis, a broad-based coalition of activists for legalizing marijuana. Joining criminal justice activists, healthcare professionals, cannabis industry leaders, unions and faith leaders, Decode Cannabis has earned a reputation as a significant force fighting for legalization.
However, Sharpton argues, the coalition isn’t enough. It’s time for Decode Cannabis and groups like it to take on the hard work challenging anti-cannabis views.
“We must enter the lion’s den,” Sharpton said, encouraging reformers to dare to win allies from the other side.
Sharpton’s tactic is compelling. And it takes advantage of a perceived rift between Trump’s White House and conventional Republicans. According to Sharpton, such is rift is a unique opportunity, not to be squandered.
Engaging with adversarial views is something Sharpton is willing and eager to do. And he doesn’t see a problem with engaging views he finds objectionable. “I am not willing to compromise or concede on this, nor any other civil rights issue,” Sharpton said.